As soon as Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
While it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
One of the things that has been said many times during the last ten months is that an increasing number of people have had their need to pray awakened by the crisis in which we find ourselves. Perhaps you are one of those whose prayer life has found new depth and regularity during the time our lives have been dominated by the coronavirus. Alternatively, you may be one of those who have struggled to connect with God as infection rates have soared and the number of recorded deaths has grown. Wherever you might find yourself, the description we have of Jesus praying in today’s reading should lead us into reflecting on our prayer lives.
We are told that in the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up. In these long, dark and cold days, and especially as we are not supposed to be going out of our houses, we like to stay snuggled up where it is cosy and warm. Few of us, and that includes those who naturally wake up while it is still very dark, think of taking those first waking moments of the day to God in prayer. When we pray we like to have a routine that usually revolves around a comfortable chair, a view of the garden and, perhaps, a cup of coffee. This was not so for Jesus. The very first priority for Jesus was to pray to God, to share with his Father the cares and concerns of those to whom he was called to minister.
Having established the prime importance of prayer, we then read that Jesus went out to a deserted place to pray. Deserted places are not always that easy to find. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology we are rarely alone. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops and even traditional land-line phones are a constant presence. If we do live alone we tend to surround ourselves with these things ‘just in case’ we might need help. This is, of course, a sensible approach, provided we do not let these things, as well as other people, intrude into our deserted place of prayer.
Some may wonder about the importance of a deserted place in which to speak to God. In answer to that question I would suggest taking a moment to reflect on the intimacy of true prayer. We all have matters in our lives that we would not want to share with others. We consider interviews with doctors, financial advisers and our closest friends to be ‘private’. When we speak to those people we share secrets and intimate details that are not for the ears of others. It is the same when we pray. We are called to take to God our innermost thoughts and fears, secrets and feelings of guilt, moments of elation and thanksgiving. Surely these need that deserted place in order that we might set aside our human tendency for gloss and obfuscation. It is in that deserted place, whatever it may look like, that we can be truly honest with God.
Finally we read: and there he prayed. We may consider the comfortable chair and the ‘awake’ mind to be prerequisites to prayer. But, is that what God wants of us? Surely God wants the freshness of the mind that is not cluttered with the affairs of the day. Surely God wants our undivided attention as we offer him our service and our love. Surely God wants us to set aside our lists of needs and demands and be open to his small voice as he speaks to us in prayer.
Let us look to the model of prayer we are given by Jesus. Let us, while it is still very dark, like Jesus get up and go out to a deserted place, and there let us pray.